In the Beginning
He is not a madman, this boy they call tyrant. He is no monster. I have seen him bleed, and I have seen him cry. I have seen him fall apart in the dark corners of his chamber, uncertainty overtaking him like a foreign enemy. He has loved and lost, and he has stared Death in the eyes each time she made her attempt on his life. This man the people call cruel, the dictator they call ruthless, he is but a child made old with responsibilities far before his time. He is but a boy, and mostly, he is but human.
I have known him for some time now, quite fascinated by his character. First, I have known him only through rumours. He is an eccentric, they say, a boy king gone insane with power. People curse his name in the streets when they think not his guards about. They speak only of his faults, or so as they perceive. They do not love this king, yet, in his presence, they cowered. It was before I ever got close enough to set eyes upon his porcelain face that I saw how this youth installed fear in the very hearts of his people. They did not love him, this I knew. They might not have even respected him, but that unadulterated horror that crosses their visages when the heralds announces his approach, that, I found, more than love, more than respect, to be quite formidable in a man.
How smitten I was by the very idea of such power. The enigmatic owner of such quickly became the object of my intrigue, and later, the object of my heart's desire. It was never quite clear to me whether I was infatuated by his beauty upon meeting, or whether it was the sheer will that exuded from him. To stand in the presence of one such as himself, one truly understands what it means to be the absolute ruler of an empire. There is something inherently regal about this boy, who, while quite svelte in stature and perhaps possessed more of his mother's soft features than his father's masculine jawline. His was a strange attraction, and stranger still in the way that he presented himself in private.
I had fallen into his company only by chance, but it will remain the most memorable encounter of my life. I was then, a cadet at the military academy. My skills were mediocre at best, and my name was often and easily forgotten. My most remarkable feature is my height, which I must add, for a boy of my age, was quite short then. We were drilling when his heralds called for our attention. The young emperor had graced our academy with his presence, a chance visit. We were all honoured, but more than that, the lot of us were terrified. It was assumed that such an unannounced visit could only be the result of misdemeanors and demerits. We stood at attention, but our stomachs churned, and most of us, I am sure, feared growing sick in the emperor's presence and the consequence of such disrespect, however involuntary. This, I understood then, first hand, was that same awesome terror that I have seen in the hearts of the empire. Here, before me, a boy perhaps several years my junior, had a troop of soldiers, men prepared to die by order, shaking in their plates! It was incredible and amusing both. He fed off this fear, I could tell. His eyes were cold, and his features were chiseled and pale like marble, but in that very slight curl of his thin, cattish lips, I could tell that he was satisfied. His eyes were dull as he looked confidently ahead of him, granting us little more than a careless glance the entirety of his visit, already knowing his victory without ever having to gawk. I looked upon him in awe, both envious and curious about this being who reigned over his empire with an iron fist when his hands were so delicate and slender.
Augustus kept us at attention for nearly four hours for his entertainment. We shortly came to realize that this boy, young and capricious, had come to grace us with his presence only to amuse himself by making sport of his authority. It was only when he grew tired of watching us stand like stone statues under the baking sun that he finally dismissed us. It was shortly after, that he had called for me, not by name, but rather, by gesture. He had grown parched, having also subjected himself to the mid-July sun for the duration of our undeserved torture, and he wished for a drink. I was to fetch him such, and so, marching stiffly, though not by choice, (my legs had grown so numb at this point that I could hardly bend my knees without a painful jolt running throughout my calves and thighs) I left the courtyard to retrieve a drink for the emperor. I was so flustered then, a boy who had just been approached by his idol, that when I got to the kitchen, I lost my wits. I did not know whether to bring Augustus water or wine, and so, in my panic, I brought him a jug of both. I remember how my arms shook as I returned to him, though not from the weight of the liquids and their respective containers, but rather from the nerves that attacked me. I feared that perhaps my indecision might incur his wrath.
Much to my surprise, his dull eyes, which were a muddled mixture between blue and grey, lit up for a moment with amusement. I did not think one as he was capable of such an expression, however brief and subtle. Here, standing within arm's reach of him, I saw just how young he was. This youth was seventeen at best. It was peculiar to me that anyone could find such a fragile looking child to be so fearsome. I mean not to speak poorly of him. Even then, he still possessed that same largeness in aura that caused men to bow at his feet, but there was also a certain sense of forlornness in his eyes. It is hard to describe this sentiment that seemed out of place to his regal features. It was a sadness that he was trying to suppress, one that perhaps he himself did not understand. It was sadness nonetheless, and if he had allowed anyone close enough in his company, they might have recognized this too about their king. This moment, which might appear insignificant to anyone else present, was when I realized that this emperor they call tyrant was only a youth. Then, I could only imagine what a desolate life he has been made to lead, and I could not help be to pity him.
It must have been the strenuous heat that clouded my judgment, but I smiled at him as I poured him out a cup of both, and also to my surprise, I was not hulled off to be executed. Instead, he appeared flustered as though no one has ever smiled at him before, uncertain what to do with a gesture kind and casual as such. He hurriedly snatched the cup of water from me and in a breath, emptied the whole. If I had not known better, I would have thought he had been out in the sun for days rather than a measly four hours by the way he drank. I suppose it is different when you are a soldier. We have been trained to live off of close to nothing, the conservation of resources dire to the survival of troops during war time. While many of us were sons of noble men and wealthy landowners, we are made to live like peasants as a measure of good discipline. In essence, our way of life is the very opposite of that which the emperor and his consorts hold, one of abundance and luxury. I poured him another cup, and with only a gesture of his hand as he drank, he commanded for me to take the vacant seat beside him. I was hesitant to oblige, worried that I might fall out of favour with my colleagues should they notice me in Augustus's personal service, especially in such a casual manner. I was more wary of offending Augustus though, and intoxicated by the idea that the emperor might favour me (I had no true reason to believe this. 'Twas but boyish fancy on my part), I sat as instructed, and when he emptied his cup again, I proceeded to fill it, though he shook his head and pointed to the wine instead.
I traded his empty cup for the wine that I had previous poured for him, and this, he savored, unlike his water before. I kept my eyes lowered as was customary, but he came to address me, and I must admit I was startled by this. I have never been in such close company with the emperor. I have not even been within range to bow at his feet when he passed through town. I did not know how to respond, and so, unwittingly, I raised my gaze to meet his squarely when he asked about the progress of our campaign overseas. I was only a cadet then; we were rarely privileged with such elaborate details on our military campaigns. Such were reserved for those more suitable for the subject, mainly generals, commanders, and higher ranking officials. Still, I did not wish to dishonor the empire and our emperor along with it, so I did my best to respond, and in a respectable manner, admitted that I was not privy to such information. He seemed pleased with my honest reply because his lips curled into a roguish smile, and for a moment, it seemed as though he was ready to laugh. But, with trained composure, he stifled his amusement with an arrogant air and a sip of his wine before looking to me once more. The humour in his eyes remained as he confessed, "At ease; I did not really expect you to know. I am just accustomed to such boring subjects. You must forgive me; I spend my days in the company of dull, old men who speak only of politics and the like. It is refreshing to have younger company."
I was astonished by this very earnest, unexpected admission; it was so uncharacteristic to this impression he holds in the public eye. Uncertain how to acknowledge such information, I hurriedly replied, "It has been an honour to be granted your company." He granted me a smile for this line, and after having refreshed himself, he made me walk with him.
We strolled away from the academy, a few of his personal soldiers trailing behind us. He talked and I listened. He spoke of many things, initially, reminiscing on the subjects that he confessed to have found quite tedious. I imagined this was so only because he been plagued with responsibility since such a young age. Listening to him, it was apparent that regardless of his age, he was a capable and clever ruler. I was never one for politics myself, but it was evident that this youth beside me had no misgivings when it came to his reign; I found this impressive. He gradually digressed from such dull subjects though, and instead, inquired about my life as a cadet, stating that he was only in the academy briefly before his great uncle, the late emperor, appointed him heir. I answered him honestly, recalling our rigorous physical training and drills, and when I found humour in his eyes once more, I summoned the gall to joke about the odd days when some official would come to torment us in the sun for hours. Augustus seemed thoroughly amused by the comment, as though the knowledge that he had successfully harassed a whole troop of soldiers was quite the tremendous feat. It was this secret sense of humour that I found quite endearing about this boy who they call tyrant, and it was in no time that I would find myself further immerged in his chaotic world of scandal, politics, and enter among a rank of society that I, as the son of a wealthy plebeian, but a plebeian nonetheless, would never have dreamt of knowing.
Our friendship was a storm. Its start was unexpected, and the duration of it was quite turbulent, though it had those moments of serenity, only to abruptly burst into a hurricane of turmoil. The emotions that this boy caused me to experience took me like a whirlwind. His world, as I came to find, was a mad one. There was rarely a moment of quiet; he was constantly bombarded by worries of the states and matters of the people. He had not the time for his own concerns, which were gallantly outcast to make room for those of others. And yet they call him a cruel, ruthless tyrant. It is hypocritical of them, those who have not seen this very human side of Augustus to say such slander against his name. As I came to know him, it struck me that he was not born a monster, but rather, became one as it was expected of him. 'Twas a tragic road he walked.